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The 2014 Fox Report

Writing this newsletter I hear Marty Robbins singing “cool, clear, water”. The highlight of 2014 was 3.5 weeks in southern Ontario visiting Bramm (Don’s son), his many friends, my family and childhood friends, and playing tourist. What is July in southern Ontario without water?  

The Ontario adventure was culture shock.  We went from the serene tranquility of our bush retreat with no sounds except pretty birdies and wind in trees to the cacophony of downtown Toronto, next to some rail tracks. We didn’t sleep the first night and, in the early morning I laughed at how loud the birds were singing in the tree outside the window.  They had to shout at each other to be heard over the background noise!   We loved the food and access to so much fresh organic produce. We enjoyed eating gluten-free pizza, with lactose-free cheese and organic, hormone-free pepperoni – all from a little take-out place a few blocks from Bramm’s in Toronto.  Even the little store in St. Agatha, the village where I grew up, sells a wider variety of organic produce than we can get in the city of Saskatoon. Demanding alternatives to wheat on the prairies is like committing an act of treason. Culture again.

We both spent a few days in TO playing tourist.  The Royal Ontario Museum was great! Don never gets tired of paleontology and dinosaur fossils.  I got lost in ancient Egypt with my highlight being a sarcophagus of a pet cat.  The mummified remains were buried with its little toys as well as 2 mummified mice to chase “on the other side”.

I left Don in the good care of his son for a week to go visit my family.  Don and Bramm did some guy stuff like knife and tool shopping but, not being a guy, I don’t know the details.  I did hear about them baking on an asphalt roof watching the international gay pride parade, and the canoe trip to Center Island on Canada Day. It was really windy and the water was rough with 4-5’ waves.  Don got his first feel and taste of Lake Ontario – literally!

 At my sister’s, I was treated like royalty, with my feet up, reading by the pool, listening to cool jazz and watching everyone else work.  There were lots of day trips, amazing meals and great visiting, with too many names to mention.

I rejoined Bramm and Don for a cottage trip.  Culture again. In the west we call them cabins and in Ontario they call them cottages.  Perhaps cabin implies something more rustic in Ontario.  Here we say cabin or rustic cabin.  We were on 2 mostly private lakes north of Kingston, where we spent a week canoeing, kayaking, swimming and hiking.  Can’t beat a fresh fish fry – bass and perch! I like snakes and we seldom see them in Saskatchewan.  It was so cool to see a huge rat snake disappear under the cottage.  It was at least 8’ long, 3” in diameter and all black.  All snakes are carnivores, so this one was probably after rodents, small birds or maybe even other snakes. Did you know that snakes smell with their tongues? They have no outer ears but they do have inner ears, and no eyelids.

On a night canoe trip, Don and Bramm encountered a raccoon swimming between a small island and the mainland.  It turned toward the canoe and was obviously thinking of climbing aboard.  Don pushed it away with the paddle shouting “Repel Boarders!” It snarled and turned away, continuing its moonlight swim.  

One day we hiked back to a secluded lake which had a magical feel.  It was home to a giant toad and two, huge spiders which didn’t seem to mind us sunning on the rocks beside them.  We spent a wonderful afternoon there watching 2 water snakes watch us! I read that water snakes mate around June, so perhaps these 2 were a couple.

Don joined me for the last week in St. Agatha with my sister and her family.  More culture shock.  Don, the great hunter, was unable to kill the groundhogs daily raiding Theresa’s market garden because we could find no one in the region to loan us a firearm or a bow.  This was very strange to us because everyone in rural SK (and rural AB) has a small arsenal in the house and usually one loaded shotgun sitting at the back door (which is most often left unlocked in case your neighbor should need to get in to borrow the gun or use the phone). The Ontarioites I asked gave up their firearms when the registry was introduced because they didn’t want the hassle of registration and proper storage. Conclusion: suburbanites of southern Ontario are far more law abiding and government trusting than the rural west, which either minimally complied or totally ignored the legislation. Perhaps the homes of Toronto are better armed.

My brother Ralph and Candice took us on a hike back in the bush to a pond where we often played as children.  We took their 5 dogs with us:  2 mastiffs and 3 rottweilers. There’s nothing funnier than huge dogs that are still puppies, or think they are.   There was no sneaking up on anything.  The dogs loved playing fetch in the water and I discovered the hard way not to stand by Candice, since that is where the wet dogs gathered to shake dry.  Some trivia - mastiffs are among the world’s largest dogs.  The largest recorded was  Zorba, an English Mastiff weighing 343 lbs and over 8’ from nose to tail - the size of a small donkey.  Hercules, a 282-lb English mastiff, was recorded to have a 38” neck! Ralph’s dogs are not that big but they’re big enough. I wonder if his neighbours have trouble keeping small pets.

The big water experience came when my sister Theresa and Peter took us to Niagara Falls. I liked watching how fast the river current got as it approached the falls.  I love it when nature makes me feel really small and insignificant.  According to Wikipedia, the Niagara River drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, and the combined falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 165 feet (50 m).  Although not terribly high, they are really wide.  More than six million cubic feet of water falls over the crest line every minute in high flow.  We share the Falls with the United States, but the more beautiful view is on the Canadian side.  Of course we made a day of it, and enjoyed driving along the vineyards and visiting craft shops of Niagara-on-the-Lake.  I am quite fond of pottery and we saw some beautiful pieces.

The main reason we went to Ontario in July was to escape our mosquito season. Unfortunately, there were many there welcoming, in fact preferring our new blood. In fact, the only time we were free from the pests was in Toronto.  I don’t understand why these blood suckers swarm up in the country when there is so much blood in the big city.

When we got home, water greeted us.  The highway, just past our turnoff, was washed out from record rainfall.  We arrived home to find the small garden I planted drowning under 6 inches of standing water.   Global climate change has significantly increased precipitation on the prairies and the water table is at ground level in many regions.  My garden is in a low spot, so water pools on the surface.  In southern Saskatchewan, it is much worse.  There are miles of fields that are now inland seas, complete with white caps. I figure it won’t be long before they stock those “lakes” and we turn the prairies from Canada’s bead basket to the fish basket, and farmers trade in their combines for speed boats and water skis.  Maybe they could rent the land out to the navy for training exercises.  I gave up trying to stop global climate change.  Now I look to adaptation.  My garden used to produce vegetables. Now it makes mosquitoes, toads and dragonflies.  I wonder if there is a market for amphibian song. I could record hours of it in the spring.  Since I was off work until August, we didn’t stay around and pout in the rain.  We went visiting in Alberta and chased the sun as much as possible.

After sitting out for 8 months, I am again teaching at the College. They finished the program restructuring and have offered me my choice of courses to teach in my favourite business program and have guaranteed to run this program for two more years. They let me set the class schedule to partially ease the travelling.  Our competitive advantage is small class sizes, and enrolment for my program is now restricted to only 12 students. This year I have a strong class who all really want to be there, and most have plans to continue on to degree or diploma programs.  Dedicated students make teaching lots of fun.   I was offered a new course to teach - Business Law. Initially I doubted my qualifications, but it is going fine and I love it.  My uncle Joe was right – I should have been a lawyer!  It’s always hard to work away from home but accommodation is great this year.  I rent a room from a snow bird who winters in Arizona, so I have the house (and garage) to myself for a good part of the school year.  And, I got a raise! All things considered, the worklife is going well.

Since I’m on the road again, we bought a new vehicle – 2009 KIA Sportage 4WD SUV. This was a really stressful event because the last time I bought a vehicle was when I bought my 1988 Toyota Tercel, new in 1988! I always said I’d only buy Toyota, but this KIA was half the price of a similar Toyota.  Hope we made the right choice.  Driving comfort has come a long way since 1988.  I’m still getting used to all the buttons and displays.  It’s really nice to sit higher up and the fog lights and 4WD option are great.  However, my old car still gets better fuel mileage, even with its age. It had been sitting in the cold for a month and it started first try the other day.  What a great car!  She is my backup emergency vehicle now.  She gets to rest most of the winter but I will continue to drive her in the summer, as long as the body holds together.  Don is still driving his 1987 Tercel 4WD Wagon.

My annual newsletter would be incomplete without a visit to the Darwinian Awards website, the international contest is for the most extraordinarily stupid act which results in the person killing themselves off and strengthening the human gene pool.   Most of the 2014 candidates are like last year – electrocutions while trying to steel live copper wire,  head on collisions while texting something trivial, and explosions while trying to weld a gas tank.  Seven people died in a cesspool on a hog farm where each waded in with the intention of saving those who went before.  All succumbed to highly toxic hydrogen sulfide fumes.

My favourite is the candidate who fell down an elevator shaft at the International Airport in Tampa, Florida, after forcing open the doors, wrapping his arms and legs around the ropes and attempting to slide down like Rambo. Before security could get him out, the man lost his grip and fell 7 floors headfirst breaking his neck.  His family tried to sue the airport for improperly protecting the man from the dangers of an elevator. He might get disqualified because it sounds like his genes have already leaked out. 

Stupidity is truly timeless, so for the fun of it, let’s go back a few years to a story from Carbon County, PA, USA.  A group of young men were drinking beer and shooting at a raccoon. Despite the estimated 35 shots fired, the animal escaped into a 3’ diameter drainage pipe. Determined to kill the animal, one guy poured gasoline down the pipe, but was unable to ignite it. Feeling the critter was winning this fight, he emptied the entire 5 gallon fuel can down the pipe but still could not ignite it. So, he slid feet-first approximately 15’ down the sloping pipe to toss the match. The fireball propelled the man out the pipe like being shot out of cannon.  He flew 200’ in the air, over his home and landed on his own front lawn with a loud “thud”. Amazingly, he suffered only minor injuries, so he does not qualify for the competition.  No one knows what happened to the raccoon. 

Going way back, Jean-Baptiste Lully, a seventeenth-century composer who wrote music for the King of France, died from an overdose of "musical enthusiasm." While rehearsing for a concert, he became overexcited and drove his baton right through his foot. He succumbed to blood poisoning.

More recently, a man accidentally shot himself to death when, awakening to the sound of a ringing telephone, he accidentally grabbed the loaded Smith and Wesson by his bed which discharged. The lesson for a westerner here is to let voicemail answer the phone when you’re cozy in bed.

All the best in 2015.

 Dawn and Don